Tag Archives: land of stories

It’s Monday – What are you Reading?

There is a popular thread among book bloggers with the hashtag #IMWAYR. I don’t typically manage to post to this thread, but I just picked my older daughter up from 3 weeks of sleep-away camp yesterday and it seemed appropriate to cover what she has been focused on. So I welcome you to J’s edition of #IMWAYR.

23168798We literally finished this book the night before we dropped J off at camp. The Dragon Lantern is the second book in the League of Seven series by Alan Gratz, and it had us chomping at the bit for book 3. The series is a very fascinating steampunk scifi look at an alternate history of the US and takes place in the 1870s. Without giving away too much, a group of extraordinary kids come together to save the world as part of the League of Seven to save the world from destruction at the hands of the Mangelborn (it is scifi, remember). Book 1 focuses on the first three characters of the League and in book 2 an additional two get introduced.

6327Roald Dahl strikes again! It’s been a while since J has read a new-to-her Dahl book, but we sent this one to camp with her and she loved it. In The Witches, Grandmamma loves to tell about witches. Real witches don’t ride around on broomsticks. They don’t even wear black cloaks and hats. They are vile, cunning, detestable creatures who disguise themselves as nice, ordinary ladies. So how can you tell when you’re face to face with one? Well, if you don’t know yet you’d better find out quickly-because there’s nothing a witch loathes quite as much as children and she’ll wield all kinds of terrifying powers to get rid of them.

22402972I wanted J to get some of her Battle of the Books reading done, if possible, while she was at camp and am thrilled that she enjoyed Fish in a Tree as much as I did. This book focuses on a little girl with dyslexia who has always managed to hide her disability, but also, who has also always just figured that she was stupid. When a new teachers comes to teach Ally’s 6th grade class, he sees the bright, creative kid underneath the trouble maker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, Ally feels free to be herself and the world starts opening up with possibilities. She discovers that there’s a lot more to her—and to everyone—than a label, and that great minds don’t always think alike. Children are wonderfully taught that “Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.”

Of course, summer is the time of amazing new releases. One of the notes we got from J was actually requesting that we send her two of the books that were released the Tuesday after she started camp, which of course we had pre-ordered. I only sent her one, but we have a lot of reading cut out for us.

23611997The one book I did send her was The Land of Stories: An Author’s Odessey. In the fifth installation of Chris Colfer’s fabulous Land of Stories series, brother and sister, Conner and Alex, are trying to save the fairy tale world by jumping into stories that Conner wrote and creating an army. There are a lot of hidden gems in this one about the lines between fiction and reality, the role of the author, and where the creative spark comes from. As a grown-up, I loved this series most when it stayed put in the fairy-tale world, but it is still a wonderful series that J is super excited to be reading. She needed a break from telling us about her experiences at camp so she could just have quiet time in the car to read this one!

28119313One that we haven’t read yet, but is in our pile to be inhaled as soon as possible, is Serafina and the Twisted Staff, the sequel to the wonderful Serafina and the Black Cloak. In 1899, when an evil threatens all the humans and animals of the Blue Ridge Mountains, twelve-year-old Serafina, rat catcher for the Biltmore estate and the daughter of a shapeshifting mountain lion.  Deep in the forest, Serafina comes face-to-face with the evil infecting Biltmore–and discovers its reach is far greater than she’d ever imagined. All the humans and creatures of the Blue Ridge Mountains are in terrible danger. For Serafina to defeat this new evil before it engulfs her beloved home, she must search deep inside herself and embrace the destiny that has always awaited her.

28118451Tomorrow, our copy of The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate Case will arrive. J absolutely adored The Candymakers and read it three times! This book takes place a few months after the first book. Forever changed by the experience, Logan, Miles, Philip, and Daisy have returned to their regular lives. But when presented with the chance to go on tour to promote the new candy, they each have very different reasons for hitting the road. The stakes are a lot higher than they thought, however, and a decades-old secret is revealed. In this action-packed adventure, the four friends embark on a journey full of hidden treasures, imaginary worlds, rivers of light, a map of awe, a sky of many colors, and one very small cat who thinks he’s a dog. They’ve already learned to trust one another. Now they’ll have to trust themselves in order to face what lies ahead and save what really matters.

26114250Since I mentioned that we finished The Dragon Lantern right as J was going off to camp, I couldn’t even wait the three weeks for her to get back to read the final book. It came out the Tuesday after she left and I immediately bought it (and loved it!). The final book, The Monster Wars, was probably my favorite of all three. Having discovered the monstrous secret of his origins, Archie Dent is no longer certain that he is worthy to be a member of the League of Seven. But with new enemies to face, he realizes that he may not have the luxury of questioning his destiny. Wielding the Dragon Lantern, the maniacal Philomena Moffett has turned her back on the Septemberist Society, creating her own Shadow League and unleashing a monster army on the American continent. Archie and his friends must race to find the last two members of their league in time to thwart Moffett’s plan and rescue humanity once more.

There are definitely too many books and not nearly enough time! What are you reading?

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Reading and re-reading The Land of Stories

A few years ago I started hearing about the book The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer. The book sounded perfect for me – fairy tales, adventure, and strong young characters. I was quickly sucked into the story and when J heard me listening to the audiobook version of book 2, she heard the names of some princesses that she recognized and got curious. Since then, she has been sucked into the stories herself and has read and listened to them all. We also just received our copy of the 4th book in the series which came out this week, but she is rereading the first three before jumping into book 4.

book blog7Kids have a tendency to read books more than once and watch movies over and over. There is something comforting in repetition. I asked J about this once and here is what she said: “A good story never gets old, but the first time you read it is always the best. Why? Because when you read it for the first time it is so new. So many interesting facts pop up that you’ve never heard of before. Books should be interesting. BUT…a good story never gets old. I go back to some because they are so good.”

For us, The Land of Stories series is one of those series that we can read over and over again. Harry Potter is definitely another. For the Land of Stories it has to do with taking something that we are so familiar with (fairy tales) and looking at them in a different light, as if the fairy tale world was simply another dimension that keeps going on even after the stories that we know are over. I will admit that the writing isn’t perfect, but the stories are fun and it is entertaining to have adventures with characters you think you knew re-imagined. J and I think that the first two books have been the most compelling because the characters were on a quest, but book 3 being a bit slower hasn’t stopped us from being super excited about book 4.

Book 1 The Wishing Spell is a quest through the world of fairy tales.  Twins Alex and Connor Bailey had lost their father about a year before the story starts. On their 12th birthday their  grandmother gives them a treasured fairy-tale book. Soon they discover that the book is not your average book as it brings them into the realm of fairy tales. Alex and Conner soon discover that the stories they know so well haven’t ended in this magical land—Goldilocks is now a wanted fugitive, Red Riding Hood has her own kingdom, and Queen Cinderella is about to become a mother! To get home they have to complete the wishing spell which requires them to solve riddles to find objects in order to make a spell that will allow them to leave the Land of Stories. They meet favorite characters and have quite the adventure.

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In the following books, they continue to have adventures in and out of the fairy tale world, but I don’t want to give away any of the fun details. Book four will apparently lead us through Oz, Neverland, Camelot, Wonderland and Sherwood Forrest.

While these are not the most wonderfully written books, they are wonderfully enchanting and they have definitely captured our attention. J and I were talking about these books in the car the other morning and she said “the reason you love the Land of Stories books is because Chris Colfer comes up with reasons why everything in fairy tales that we know happens.” They are just possible explanations, but they start your mind thinking that there are more to these stories and characters then what we have been shown by Disney.

The books have a lexile level at around 720 and run over 400 pages a piece.

Re-imagining Rumpelstiltskin

We are a fairy tale loving family. From picture book classics to the original Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson collections and now on to modern turns and twists, there is a comforting enticement in fairy tales. A current favorite in our household is Rumpelstiltskin.

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A few weeks ago, J brought home a book from her school library that I had never heard of – Rumpelstiltskin’s Daughter. We both thought that it was fantastic. The book is a fractured fairy tale with the “what if” storyline of what if the miller’s daughter refuses to marry the king and instead runs off with Rumpelstiltskin? Years after Rumpelstiltskin had spun straw into gold, his daughter, Hope, travels through the village selling the golden coins spun by her father. The king greedily tries to have Hope spin for him, but instead she tricks the king into doing good for his kingdom.

What an awesome story! Haven’t you always read the traditional Rumpelstiltskin story and wondered why in the world she marries the greedy king who repeatedly threatens to kill her? The original story has so many odd aspects to it that it is ripe for additional interpretations. But when J announced after reading Rumpelstiltskin’s Daughter that it was one of her favorite fairy tales, I felt that it was the perfect time to introduce another version of the story that I had just read – the middle-grade novel Rump.

Rump is the story of Rumpelstiltskin from his perspective. This great book attempts to explain Rumpelstiltskin’s actions and also give a story to why the miller would lie and say that his daughter could spin gold when she obviously could not. At 12 Rump discovers that he can spin straw into gold, and in a world where everyone is barely scraping by and mining for gold that seems to have run dry, this seems like a godsend. But Rump soon discovers that being able to spin straw into gold is more of a curse than anything else. The story gives an alternate view of the story and insight into all of Rump’s actions. Rump then must go on a quest to find a way to rid himself of his curse. I wasn’t sure how J would respond to this story, as there are a lot of mature themes about fate, karma, fair trading practices and greed. I was pleasantly surprised when she fully enjoyed the story. Of course she didn’t get the deeper meanings, but she understood a lot of it and enjoyed the journey that Rump had to take.

We have also recently seen another version of the Rumpelstiltskin story within  Land of Stories: The Enchantress Returns. This is book 2 of a series we have fully enjoyed (and are waiting for our pre-ordered copy of book 3) in which two children enter the world of fairy tales. The character of Rumpelstiltskin gets introduced in this book as someone who had been tricked by the evil Enchantress to kidnap a baby princess as part of her plan to take over the world. He regretted what he had done and found the loophole out by making the deal of giving the baby back if the Queen could guess his name. After over 120 years in prison, poor Rumpelstiltskin thought he was done with the Enchantress, but she managed to come back even more powerful than before.

What is so fabulous about fractured fairy tales is that they take a story that we think we know so well and turn it on it’s head. By doing that, it makes us think more. For young children, it also opens up their eyes to different forms of creativity. Yes, kids can write things from scratch, but sometimes budding young authors need a little nudge to help them get a story going and taking something they know and changing it around is a great lesson in creativity. There is always another way to look at things.

kids and audiobooks

This is a slight deviation from my normal type of blog post, but well worth it. I have recently been reminded just how amazing audiobooks are for kids. When J was younger, she liked to listen to audiobooks, memorize the stories, then “read” them herself. Then for many years, we didn’t listen to them at all. All of a sudden, audiobooks have come back into our lives big time.

For the younger set (3-5), audiobooks are a means of helping kids learn how to read through memorization. Part of the reading process is knowing when to turn pages and to recognize the words. I’ve found that my kids get a sense of accomplishment from “reading” without mommy around. These days many audiobooks out there also feature the voices from animated features, which is a big draw for little children, and anything that gets them excited about books works for me.

E has been obsessed with audiobooks for a while now. She turned 3 in October and it was probably around that time that she really got excited by stories on CD, or mommy’s iPhone. For a period of time, she had a CD of four 20 minute Disney stories that she would listen to each night at bedtime. For Hanukkah I suggested books with CDs and she listened to Frozen over and over again. There are times during the day that she will shut herself in her room and listen to audiobooks. At other times, she grabs a pile of regular books and plays librarian. All in all, I am sure that I am raising a reader.

J really liked the Disney books with CDs when she was in that age range. Then at some point we moved into audiobooks for chapter books that she enjoyed listening to only if she had the book in front of her to follow along – a great thing, but also a hinderance when I tried to borrow audiobooks from the library for books we didn’t have. She listened to many Magic Treehouse books and Charlotte’s Web during this phase.

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 9.39.20 PMAt some point, we found the Barefoot Books podcasts. If you don’t know Barefoot Books is an awesome “independent publisher specializing in carefully crafted books, gifts and digital content for children that combine the best of the present with the best of the past to educate our children as the caretakers of tomorrow.” I’ve thought about selling their books, but for the time being, I just buy them through a friend (shameless plug for Lauren). Anyway, as I was saying, for a long time there were putting out weekly podcasts of stories from around the globe narrated by some amazing talents. Some of our favorites were “The Musicians of Bremen,” “The Faeries and the Cake,” and “The White Mare.” These are classic fairy tales told in their original formats, rather than the overly sweetened versions we have grown accustomed to. There are 135 currently available at iTunes and they are free downloads.

Then for a period, we really stopped listening to audiobooks. I believe that it has been our infatuation with Harry Potter coupled with E’s love of Disney stories that encouraged J to start listening again. When J loves a book, she reads it over and over and over again. She enjoyed listening to Harry Potter, and who wouldn’t with the marvelous Jim Dale doing the reading? Then she heard me listening to The Land of Stories – The Enchantress Returns, and desperately wanted to read and listen to the first book, The Wishing Spell, herself. As I mentioned in the last post, we got her the book and she has been devouring it. A few days ago, our hold of the audiobook came in and she has started listening to the book as well as reading it – she is at different parts of the book with each format! We both agree, Chris Colfer has done an absolutely amazing job narrating his own story. If you want an example of perfect audiobook for kids, this is it. J listens to this whenever she gets the chance and goes to sleep with it every night.

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 9.38.33 PMWe have also been listening to the original Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland through the website Storynory, which is a free online collection of stories. They are also available through iTunes, but the stories that J enjoys tend to have lots of parts, or chapters, and it is easier to just download them or let her listen straight through their website, which also allows kids to follow along with the story. While writing this post, I just realized that they had the Snow Queen in 3 parts and have downloaded that for our collection.

Just like there are many ways to write  -pen on paper, straight to computer – there are also many ways to read a book. I never used to understand the lure of audiobooks, and then I found a few that really work that way and allow me to listen to a book while doing something like cleaning the house or driving. That does not mean that all books lend themselves to be listened to, but it is another way to bring it to life. J has talked about being an author and now she is seeing that it can combine her two biggest loves – stories and acting. Audiobooks are a great thing to have for long car rides and a great thing to enjoy at home. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t read to our children ourselves, but who can argue with another source for them to love books?

I’m continuing to look for other great ways to download audiobooks for my girls to enjoy. There are a lot of great places out there, if you have a favorite, please let me know!

encouraging new books

Children are creatures of habit. They find something that they like and they stick with it. When J was really little, it was Dora everything. When she first found the Magic Treehouse and Rainbow Magic series, we went through them as if there were no other books out there.  E, my 3 year old, is currently in love with Disney princesses, but she has less of the obsessive personality that J does. Each time either girl moves on to something else, I’m so excited. Lately, J has 2 big loves – Harry Potter and The Land of Stories.

I’ve mentioned HP before, but she keeps begging me to write more about it. In her words, “Harry Potter is so extremely magical that I felt that I could hold my breath for a million years.” She is part way through book 3, The Prisoner of Azkaban, but I think they are getting a bit darker so we do seem to be slowing down and she has been enjoying the lighter side of The Land of Stories.

Harry Potter is a great series. I held off having her read it for a long time because even though her reading level is high, I always have to keep in mind that she is only 6. Like a child her age, she finds herself falling into books. When I asked her why she liked HP so much she said that “I really did feel that I was a part of the story. The magic that they were using excited me and sometimes in the books there are clues” about things coming up. Even though she initially didn’t like Hermione and didn’t believe me that she was an awesome character, she now loves her and felt like “she was me and I was her.” There are already plans for her to be Hermione for Halloween, but who knows.

Then the other day she heard a little bit of the audiobook I was listening to – The Land of Stories: The Enchantress Returns. She must have heard one of the princesses names and started asking me questions. I filled her in a bit on what the story was about, explaining more about book 1, The Wishing Spell. That piqued her interest and she started begging me to check the audiobook or digital book from the library. Of course, nothing was available. A friend had recently been telling me about how she and her daughter were reading it together, but her daughter is in 3rd grade. Still, I had a feeling that this would be one of those books that she would really enjoy and one she would probably want to read over and over. I was right and I’m really glad that I decided to buy her the book so she can read it over and over again. Even though she found the beginning slow (it is), she is loving it and wanting to read it all the time.

The basic synopsis is as follows:  The story itself is of two twins, Alex and Connor, who find themselves inside “the land of stories.” In order to get out, they attempt to find 8 objects necessary to complete the wishing spell. Those objects include things like a lock of Rapunzel’s hair, Cinderella’s glass slipper and a piece of Red Riding Hood’s original basket. While going through the land of fairy tales, they meet a wide cast of characters and see how their stories have played out. All didn’t turn out perfectly for Sleeping Beauty when her kingdom awoke from it’s 100 year sleep; the Wolves from Red Riding Hood are out for revenge; and the evil queen from Snow White has escaped from prison. The evil queen plays a large role in the story and by the end gets to tell her side of what happened. The point made with her story is that “a villain is just a victim whose story hasn’t been told.”

We still read picture books (look for a review of Greek mythology coming up), but she wants to spend all day reading The Land of Stories even going as far as taking it to the park the other day. Encouraging new picture books was always easy, getting her to be entranced by longer chapter books is definitely more of a challenge, but the response is well worth it.